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As promised, this starts the new blog themed posts as I try to bring you more targeted information. For the duration of November, we’ll talk about contracts, rates, and payment.
Today, let’s review the contract.
Recently I had a chance to put my contracts to the test. It hadn’t happened in a long while, but a client was dangerously close to litigation. In fact, I was one step away from signing with a collection agency. But since circumstances seemed very odd (he’d asked for the invoice but had never paid it), I gave the client one last try. The invoice is now paid.
Yet imagine if there hadn’t been a contract in place. What would have become of my requests? Since much of my work is in email, there’s always a written record somewhere of the project and the client agreeing to the terms (I make sure to ask for that –“To repeat, you’d like 2K words on the importance of business liability insurance, and the fee is $2,000. Please confirm so I can get started.”). But it’s important to get a contract on nearly every project you touch (I say “nearly every” because it’s pretty common to work without a contract for magazine editors with whom you’ve built a relationship).
What goes into it? In my opinion, these items are musts:
Payment terms. You’d be surprised how many people overlook this one. It’s not simply putting a figure down. You need to spell out how you expect that client to pay you – weekly, monthly, in installments, etc. Make sure this is done prior to signing the contract. If you’re ghostwriting a book, this is especially important, for you don’t want that last payment to be “upon delivery of final product.” I’ve had projects that have gone on for years. Put an end date to that last payment.
Revision timeline. Build it in at the outset. The client has a deadline, but it’s not all on you to meet it. They have to meet their own in order to keep the workflow going. Try a clause that explains that the client has 14 days from delivery (or 30 days if it’s a huge document) to get back to you with changes.
Project expectations. This is where you’ll repeat back to the client the parameters of the agreement. You’ll do X, Y and Z for the client. Why this is important — it keeps the client from throwing A, B, and C onto the pile, protecting you from doing double (or worse) the expected amount of work for that one fee.
Client responsibilities. There may not be a specific section for it, but your contract should spell out what’s expected of the client, as well. If they’re to supply you with research, experts, or original content, say so in your agreement. If there’s an ongoing project, spell out all time lines and deadlines.
No third party clause. I call it the “no posse” clause, and I make sure this is in every agreement — it states who has input and authority over the content, and what happens should an unnamed person become involved. For example, you’re working with Fred on his autobiography, when at the very end, someone named Jeff starts sending his edits and expects you to revise heavily what you and Fred have already done. That’s third party input, and the contract is now void and payment due immediately. If you want to continue working with Fred, who’s insisting on Jeff’s input, work up a new contract including your fee for implementing Jeff’s suggestions. Sometimes clients realize their mistake when they see how much it will cost.
Whenever I use this clause (always) I point it out to my clients in my email to them, and I make sure that section is either highlighted or in bold. I do ask them if there are other parties (besides spouses) who might want to review the work. That way you can include them in the contract and adjust the rate to compensate.
Additional work will be negotiated under a separate agreement. This does a few things – it forces the client to examine exactly how much work is needed at the outset. Also, it guarantees that the work you’re about to sign on for isn’t going to snowball into massive amounts of work that you’ve bid only a pittance for. If your agreement is to write two articles, write two. Don’t take on a third under the same agreement, for that turns into six and now you’re unable to pull the plug.
Define your word counts or per-piece counts. While writing the company’s corporate profiles or two ghostwritten articles may seem like fairly specific jobs, how many “executives” are they expecting to pile on to your profile heap, and are those articles in your mind 1,500 words and in their minds 30-page white papers?
What goes into your contracts these days?